September 25, 2018
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  • Dispensaries such as Green Point Wellness, which will open in February in Linthicum, offer medicinal cannabis products in a secure environment where patients can get advice from trained staff members.
    Photo by Dylan Roche
    Dispensaries such as Green Point Wellness, which will open in February in Linthicum, offer medicinal cannabis products in a secure environment where patients can get advice from trained staff members.
  • Dispensaries such as Green Point Wellness, which will open in February in Linthicum, offer medicinal cannabis products in a secure environment where patients can get advice from trained staff members.
    Photo by Dylan Roche
    Dispensaries such as Green Point Wellness, which will open in February in Linthicum, offer medicinal cannabis products in a secure environment where patients can get advice from trained staff members.
  • Dispensaries such as Green Point Wellness, which will open in February in Linthicum, offer medicinal cannabis products in a secure environment where patients can get advice from trained staff members.
    Photo by Dylan Roche
    Dispensaries such as Green Point Wellness, which will open in February in Linthicum, offer medicinal cannabis products in a secure environment where patients can get advice from trained staff members.

What’s All This I Hear About Medicinal Cannabis?

Dylan Roche
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February 6, 2018

Cancer, seizures, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, arthritis, anxiety, PTSD. What does each of these conditions – among many others – have in common with the others? They are all conditions that can be treated with medicinal cannabis.

Yes, cannabis. More commonly referred to as marijuana among countless other street names, it’s a substance that your parents or teachers probably warned you about and told you to stay away from.

But medical research is quickly changing that social view, and with the medicinal cannabis industry gaining traction in Maryland and across the country, more people are willing to give cannabis a chance as an alternative to pharmaceutical drugs.

According to Professor Shad Ewart, who teaches a course on medicinal cannabis at Anne Arundel Community College, cannabis has a long history of medicinal uses, tracing back to ancient cultures as far as 5,000 years ago. But cannabis gained a negative stigma in the United States around the turn of the 20th century. “If this plant were discovered today, we would get down on our knees and thank whoever for this thing that could save so many people,” Ewart said.

Medicinal cannabis differs from pharmaceuticals in that patients must first register through the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission, and then see a physician certified to make a recommendation for cannabis. Patients with a doctor’s recommendation will then visit a dispensary, where trained associates can guide them to the product that best fits their needs.

At Green Point Wellness, a soon-to-be-opened dispensary located in Linthicum, each of the 20 employees has undergone four module training courses to understand the products they sell. “It’s not, ‘I’m going to get high today.’ They’re serious about the medicine and they want to get behind the counter and help people,” explained George Oakes, the dispensary’s general manager, who has personally used medicinal cannabis to treat his stress, anxiety and panic attacks. “I haven’t been on big-pharm meds in about 10 years,” he said.

Medicinal cannabis can be administered several ways – inhalation, through smoking or vaporizing; transdermals (under the tongue), for patients who cannot or prefer not to smoke; and topicals, such as ointments or lotions to alleviate pain. Products that correspond with each mode of administration are available, so whereas one person might smoke part of the flower to ease anxiety, another person might use an ointment to alleviate arthritis. Many of the products do not even give the patient any sort of high.

“If you have a loved one who is suffering, if you have a family member who has Parkinson’s, or a child who has seizures, or you have Lyme disease, and you have the chance to use cannabis, wouldn’t you use it?” asked Tony Toskov, owner of Green Point Wellness, who found himself drawn to the medicinal cannabis industry when he learned about its benefits. “I thought it was a great method to get away from pharmaceutical pain medication for people who don’t want to be on them,” he said.

Despite the changing social perception, many in the community still have their reservations against medicinal cannabis. Nancy Schrum, director of the Office of Constituent Services for County Executive Steve Schuh, has dedicated many hours to drug abuse prevention and awareness through the Not My Child program and similar efforts, but she worries that the changing stigma of cannabis for medicinal purposes will be confusing for young people. “It’s getting in the way of the prevention efforts we’re aggressively working on,” she said. “We’re expecting young people to digest and understand that medical cannabis is for the purpose of helping people with an illness because it makes people feel better. There’s your message: It makes me feel better. Young people, because their brains are still developing, don’t have the ability to understand the consequences of the use of marijuana.”

States Attorney Wes Adams, who has spent hours at local schools trying to address issues of drug abuse, takes a similar stance. Though he does not discredit the potential benefits of medicinal cannabis, he wants young people to understand that medicinal use and recreational use are different things. “My big concern is the message that a medical benefit equates to recreational use,” he said.

He also worries that if medicinal cannabis is accepted as treatment for conditions such as anxiety, young people will be more inclined to self-medicate. “If problems aren’t going away with marijuana, do you mask it with a different substance?” he said.

Advocates, on the other hand, expect cannabis to help in the fight against addiction by replacing harder medicinal drugs such as opioids. “I hope people will see medical cannabis as a safer alternative to other medication,” said Gail Rand, a patient advocate with Maryland-based grower ForwardGro. “It could save lives – there’s been ample research that show states with a medicinal cannabis program see a significant reduction in deaths from opioid overdose to a tune of 24.8 percent.”

People interested in learning more about the laws and procedures surrounding medicinal cannabis can visit the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission online at www.mmcc.maryland.gov. Although only time will tell how medicinal cannabis plays into the future of medicine or the fight against drug abuse, Professor Ewart emphasized that it is one more option that now exists for those who want to pursue it. “I am an advocate of doctors having more options and patients should have more options,” he concluded.


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